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Bioessays. 1999 Oct;21(10):871-9.

Where is the root of the universal tree of life?

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Institut de Génétique et Microbiologie, Université Paris-Sud, 91405 Orsay Cedex, France.


The currently accepted universal tree of life based on molecular phylogenies is characterised by a prokaryotic root and the sisterhood of archaea and eukaryotes. The recent discovery that each domain (bacteria, archaea, and eucarya) represents a mosaic of the two others in terms of its gene content has suggested various alternatives in which eukaryotes were derived from the merging of bacteria and archaea. In all these scenarios, life evolved from simple prokaryotes to complex eukaryotes. We argue here that these models are biased by overconfidence in molecular phylogenies and prejudices regarding the primitive nature of prokaryotes. We propose instead a universal tree of life with the root in the eukaryotic branch and suggest that many prokaryotic features of the information processing mechanisms originated by simplification through gene loss and non-orthologous displacement.

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